Savvy travelers to Pensacola, Florida know about camping on the beach at Fort Pickens. This historic site is the largest of four forts built around the bay and construction began in 1829. It was one of only four Federal forts in the South not to surrender during the Civil War. The fort also was home to Geronimo and his people after their capture in 1886.
Its a great place to visit if you ever get a chance and there are great camping facilities on the island as well as condos and hotels close by for those of you whose idea of roughing it is the Holiday Inn.
Along with the whitest sand beaches in the world, the island offers a free fishing pier that juts out into the bay and no fishing license is required if you try your luck there.
It can be a great place to catch squid for calamari dishes, otherwise known as “fried rubber bands.” So with Trixie in tow, we headed down to the pier to see what we could catch. A cool two days produced nothing of value but a warm front soon arrived and with it, vast schools of Sheepshead fish came into the bay.
For those of you unfamiliar with these fish, they have teeth just like a human and its very unnerving to catch them especially when they remind you of your uncle Bill with his flapping discount dentures. They are a beautiful fish otherwise with vertical stripes and if smaller, would probably be in your Doctor's office aquarium.
The influx of warm weather also caused a panic across the region and there came a mass exodus off of the mainland of people wanting their share of the bountiful harvest. Let me just say, it came in second in size only to the one Moses led out of Egypt.
Soon, thousands of people lined the beaches soaking up the sun, fishing and flying kites. It was a Norman Rockwell moment for sure as kids ran and romped, dads fished and the women all baked to leathery skinned perfection under the Gulf shore sun.
Our pier, as I like to call it since we had really been the only ones there braving the cold days, suddenly became a madhouse of yelling, pushy men, women and kids plying the waters off the pier with stinky baits, live shrimp and other non identifiable mollusks. The people arrived in vehicles of every type and description and would load up special carts with ice, drinks, bait, tackle and a dozen fishing rods all thrust skyward like phallic monuments dedicated to some unknown mythical god.
We quickly surmised that this was soon to become “Combat Fishing.” People lined up shoulder to shoulder all vying for the chance to hook a tasty fish for the table. The fish, not to be totally outsmarted, would only bite in a ten foot section of the dock so while a few chosen anglers reeled them in one after another, the others were left to grumble and complain and watch with baited breath. Or maybe that was how their breath actually smelled.
Several of the “soldiers” were rude to the point of remarkable as they would pounce on a persons fishing spot if they turned around to unhook a fish or re-bait their line.
Picture if you will dozens of men, women and kids standing side by side throwing heavy lead weights and sharp saltwater hooks all at the same time. At times there was more lead flying around than at the beaches in Normandy on D-Day. There are no rules and absolutely no manners in this situation and I soon tired of the battle zone. So we sought out the safety of the beach where we still had an uninterrupted view of the pier and began to name the combatants according to actions and dress.
There was Harvey Hat who wore no shoes, had a great beard and would climb up and cling to the railing with his toes like a monkey when he got a fish on. Droopy Drawers showed up in some kind of black surf boarder's wetsuit with a zipper drop seat in it all hanging to his knees. He would get so excited anytime anyone got a fish on I began to wonder if he actually forgot to use the back door on his pants at some point as it sagged more and more as the day wore on.
A woman a ways down the pier screamed loudly and a young man came running all the while peeling off clothes like Lady Godiva riding through Coventry in protest to her husband's new taxes on the town. Now that is a tax protest I can really respect. We don't know why he did it but were just thankful to be able to witness such a feat.
I am soon on my way back to the lofty bosom of Colorful Colorado and can rest well knowing that at least there my biggest competitor for my fishing spot is a black bear. At least they have more manners than what I have just witnessed here and only smell half as bad as the fishermen on the pier.